A real life Peter Pan: what I love about my job

Sebastian Gray, a consultant in Salisbury, explains why working in child health is like being part of a big family, and how to spot the paediatricians in your hospital (hint: they may not drive the fanciest car).

Why did you choose paediatrics?

I have wanted to be a children’s doctor since the age of 2. We all know the siblings of the children who basically live in hospital due to chronic and severe illness. That was me growing up in the 80’s visiting my sick brother. For me, going to hospital was something I looked forward to; my happy place. The doctors and nurses were like super-heroes. I dreamt of being like them and worked hard to make my dream come true.

I am now a Consultant and as part of my training, I took SPIN modules in Respiratory and HDU (High Dependency Units) and a Quality Improvement Fellowship with HEE (Wessex). I've been a Vice Chair of the RCPCH Trainees Committee and the UK voice in EURYPA (European Young Paediatrician’s Association).

What do you love about your job?

Spending every day around children keeps me young; a real life Peter Pan. There seems to be a deeper understanding and appreciation of my sense of humour especially in the five to 10 year-olds. 

As a registrar you can apply for a sub-specialty or  continue down the general paediatrics route. I’m a huge advocate for general paediatrics and love the variation that the only true general specialty delivers.

Special Interest (SPIN) modules offer the perfect balance to develop an expertise in an area without going down the GRID route, maintaining diversity. My respiratory and HDU (High Dependency Units) SPIN modules have given me great experience and training in focusing on the acutely unwell. Sick kids can bounce back so quickly and it is hugely satisfying to see. The technical aspects of procedures and variation of seeing a 2-day-old followed by a 16-year-old prevents the mundane routine of other jobs.

Working in child health is like being part of a big family. There is a genuine multidisciplinary approach and you will seamlessly, unconsciously start handing over with “we” instead of “I” soon after starting paediatric training and learn to listen to nursing concerns even quicker. The friendly banter of paediatric wards is unrivalled and every day is social and fun.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

You can’t win them all. There is no escaping the fact that when a child unexpectedly dies, it can be unbearable. Paediatricians universally are empathetic; we feel every part of the grief, pain and suffering. That is where the family feel is so important. By knowing you are never alone and that somebody else is by your side you are empowered to feel those feelings and deal with them.

Fortunately, these episodes are few and far between and mostly sandwiched between immensely happy, rewarding moments.

What advice would you give people who are thinking of applying for paediatrics?

It is essential that you like being around the small people of the world. It’s also really important that you give it a try. Even if you can’t do a paediatric job during foundation training, every paediatric department should be able to arrange a taster week for which you are entitled to study leave during Foundation Year 2. 

Look around at the consultants in your hospital. Paediatricians may not drive the fanciest cars or have holiday homes but they have little wrinkles around their eyes from excessive smiling and a glint in their eye that inspires 2 year-olds to want to grow up to be just like them.